Sunday, 29 March 2009

One Is The Loneliest Number

So, it's welcome to another season. Before I start maybe we need a disclaimer for anyone who hasn't read Every Day Is Like Sunday (as it's not popularly known) before this year and doesn't understand what the hell is going on.

Point 1: Match analysis is not my strong point, or frankly something I'm even moderately interested in. By reading any post on this website you agree that you at least have a working knowledge of the game being described, and can fill in the gaps or alter any chronological errors yourself.

Point 2: I may tend to be ever so slightly negative once in a while. Send your leftover anti-depressants on a postcard to the usual address.

Point 3: Updates other than match reports are less frequent than a Melbourne train. Subscribe to the Demonblog Twitter feed for an update whenever a new post goes up.

So let's move on shall we?

You can find out all you need to know about today's game with one simple statistic. The 22 players who took the field today took the lowest number of contested marks since Champion Data began tracking the stat. One solitary contested mark, taken by a first gamer. You wouldn't take offence but given that 95% of our kicks are to contests it's a worry. In fact it's more than a worry it's what journalists refer to as a DAMNING STATISTIC. Hamish McIntosh alone took more. One of them just fell into his arms in a marking contest, but that was how it was for us today.

The annual golden era of pre-season optimism is over and starting from the final siren on Sunday we have entered the land of cold hearted reality. It's not a nice place. It's a place where we have to realise that 2007 and 2008 weren't flukes and that we really are a bottom two - at best side - at the moment. Things can change, and there's nothing to say there's not some miracle over the horizon ready to catapult us into the top eight but the way we played today is making a mockery of every one of us who said "I think we'll finish last but..." Don't worry about those who went onto Big Footy (or alternative internet forum) and boldly declared we were back in town and would be pushing for the 8. They're currently being cared for (e.g electric shock therapy/having to watch Scott Chisholm's greatest hits on repeat) in a psychiatric ward.

North were all over us from the first bounce. Having to face McIntosh with an under performing midfield beneath him wasn't the best scenario for Spencer to be facing on debut, but he just couldn't get to it. I lost count of the number of wild mid-air leaps he took that didn't go anywhere near it - I guess he was trying to take McIntosh out of it, because that was all he could do to avoid getting beaten to it every time. Given that our ruckman couldn't get first hands to it, it became increasingly difficult for our midfielders to get a hold of it and North burnt us in the clearances. Even with a bunch of secondary bounces we were more often than not left clutching at thin air as they cleared the ball from danger. I can't find the clearance stats anywhere at 11.50pm on a Sunday night but I'm guessing that they'd be as depressing to read as the contested mark stats.

When North got the first couple it looked ominous. Took us a good six or seven minutes to get anything happening in our forward line, and a wonky Jetta kick that hit the post (I think) opened the scoring. Sadly as this was his first kick he failed to enter this so-called "exclusive club" of players who have goaled with their first possession in AFL football. Some exclusivity it seems that everyone who isn't a defender is in it these days. Do they have meetings? Is Andrew Lamprill the Chief Executive? And can Nifty Nev start his own pressure group for people who have hit the post with their first kick? And why do I remember Lamprill kicking a goal in Round 2, 1992?

I'd had Bate to kick the first goal, and while it was destroy all tickets when North got the first couple he did get our first and looked very lively early on. Unfortunately he then proceeded to not go anywhere near it for the next three quarters. Didn't help that nobody could deliver a ball inside 50 without having gone halfway around the world first. Davey and Moloney added goals and suddenly we were in front. Say what? Didn't last of course. Though at least we broke even and managed a draw.

Jetta did eventually get a goal with his third kick in football (another exclusive club), and Petterd slotted an early contender for our goal of the season (who can we name that award after?) to keep us in front. Ricky was handy up front and kicked a couple of goals but he's not going to be anything other than a bit part player up there while we wait for the return of Robertson. One of those solid, performances that look good in a bad side but the likes of Geelong and Hawthorn would spit on.

North went into halftime seven points in front and while not looking exactly 'comfortable', they certainly should have been further in front. In fact for a second or two they might have had an even smaller lead. For one of the few times all day we got a sequence of play happening where it all went right and didn't once go backwards. 29 minutes into the quarter and I thought "this has got siren going off while we're deep in attack written all over it". Lo and behold the ball dropped into Green's arms half a second after the siren 50m out directly in front. He made a manly attempt of trying to pretend he'd marked it but was never going to get away with it.

So, neither side looked particuarly good in the first half. We couldn't win it out of the centre under any circumstances - though we looked a lot better with Johnson in the ruck than Spencer - and even when we did get it the ball would be butchered with extreme prejudice. With Bate, Miller and Johnson all MIA inside 50 we were never going to kick a winning score if it kept going as it was. North would craft goals and we'd fluke them, then give one straight back out of the middle. Frustrating, but what else were we supposed to expect? Excellence? Good luck with that.

When North got the first two of the third quarter I was ready to write the whole thing off as an experiment and go home. Petrie missed a gettable shot which would have shut the gate ten minutes into the quarter and we hit back with a double salvo through Petterd (the aforementioned GOTY contender) and Green. Miller had a shot to close the gap to a point, but refective of a day where nothing went right for him, he missed it and it went down the other end for a goal. Morton - who had his worst half ever for us in the first - goalled to drag the margin back but like every other game in the last decade we wasted our hard work by allowing them to kick an easy goal.

The amount of goals and scoring opportunities that came from turnovers was one thing. What really got to me was the amount of times that they'd have a loose man inside 50 who would be on the end of a short kick. Is it because we're so bad that this never seems to happen to us? Nobody ever allows Aaron Davey to wander to 40m out straight in front and have a pass dropped right in his hands.

So, still in it at 3/4 time but in the end the class difference reared it's ugly head and by ten minutes into the quarter we were out on our feet and taking serious punishment. Four goals to one in the last quarter and the North fans were going bananas like they'd beaten somebody half decent. Everybody loves a win, especially in round one but I'm of the opinion that when you beat a rubbish team that you shake hands and look towards the next opponent.

I put it down to the fact that the fans were keen to do some celebrating after having to sit through an astoundingly tedious cricket calendar and unbelievably plastic and contrived soccer season. Good luck to them, but unless they tune up a bit they'll be sitting with us at the top end of the draft come November.

Positives? Well, we're not last yet so unlike 2008 we're not going to spend all 22 weeks of the season (quite literally) rooted to the foot of the table awaiting relegation to the Diamond Valley League. Thanks to Richmond, and the fact that we've already got a lifetime achievement award, we're not the biggest laughing stock in the competition at the moment.

We weren't that bad, but North allowed us to look better than we were. You're not going to get the same courtesy from everybody - and we can expect some fearful hidings if we don't get it right in the midfield. The defence is still our best asset at the moment but there's only so much you can do if the ball is down there most of the game. Warnock has been a revelation, Cheney was excellent and while Rivers and Garland didn't have their best games today they are solid contributors. Once you tag Whelan in for Bennell and - I suppose - put Wheatley in somewhere it looks even better. Now to make it so they don't spend four quarters under siege.

Negatives? Well there were heaps, but most of them are either obvious or have already been mentioned. Morton was putrid in the first half but redeemed himself to a degree later and McLean was almost completely absent. Our forward line was completely impotent (new sponsor: nasal delivery technology from AMI) but that's as much to do as the failure to get clearances as anything else. Even when we do win the ball we wait so long to do anything with it that the opposition flood back and completely plug us up. Sounds painful and it usually is.

Injury Watch
A few niggles here and there, but nothing serious. For those of you who have taken the 1.01 on offer for Rivers or Moloney to be the first players to be seriously injured you're still in the mix. Either of them, both the unluckiest men this side of Mark Webber, could spontaneously combust at any moment.

Rookie O Rama

Cheney - BOG for us. Great debut.

Jetta - Extremely lively but might be forced out by the return of THE CELEBRATOR.

Bennell - Looked a bit out of his depth for now.

Spencer - Needs more time in the 2's. I'm not one to bury somebody for their debut (oh ok, Weetra - but that was it. Oh, and and Chisholm but that wasn't his first game ever) but he was pretty awful today. Will get better but frankly I'd prefer to see what Meesen can do right now so we can decide whether or not to persist with him. If the Meese comes in and plays a handful of shockers we can stash him at Casey, cut him loose at the end of the year and pretend the whole thing never happened. If we don't even bother playing him now what are we learning? Nothing.

Bag Johnson's performance all you want but he got twice as many hitouts in a quarter of the time in the middle. Spencer's disposal is currently reminscent of an even less capable Jamar - and you know when you start hanging for the return of MJ halfway through a game things must be going horribly wrong.

Crowd Watch
Seemed to me like there were heaps of North fans there, but that's probably because I believe the world begins and ends at the Ponsford Stand. The ones around us were going absolutely feral over the umpiring as well - more on that later. One especially exciting character was the gigantic fat and bald guy with no neck who spent the whole game turning red. Bless.

Kevin Bartlett Tribute Rules Kommittee Korner
I have to admit it but the rushed behind rule doesn't look too bad. It's not often that I'll put my hand up and admit that the AFL might have been right but it certainly made for a more interesting clash today. Of course it's absolutely no help whatsoever to our defenders who struggle to get a clean possession away under no pressure, let alone in a crowd, but it definately stopped us going for the cheap option every time.

Speaking of umpiring, can we get one thing straight here. This applies for all teams at all levels. Just because the free kick count is 'lopsided' does not mean there is a gigantic conspiracy against your team - especially when you're winning by five goals. Sometimes team are more disciplined than others. Sometimes teams have players who get caught holding the ball much more than others. Some have idiots who roost the ball out of bounds on the full with every kick. Looking at raw numbers and sometime determining bias is complete madness. But what do you expect from sports fans?

While we're on the subject everyone loves the good old fashioned bronx cheer after getting a free kick for the first time in twenty minutes but - and I'm sure this is written in the constitution somewhere - you are only entitled to do it ONCE. You do NOT bronx cheer every free kick you recieve for the next two quarters you retards. We're as guilty of this as anyone, it's just that we've got less people to do it.

Talkback Lunatics Division
Thanks to the clown who rang up SEN to tell them that "Melbourne members and supporters have, to a man, lost faith in Dean Bailey". Was I consulted on that? Talk for yourself or shut your mouth. I have my questions about things that go on with the club but I always think back to Alistair Clarkson's first season at Hawthorn when knee-jerk retards were calling for his head. Bailey was handed the biggest shit sandwich in history and expected to turn it into a four course gourmet meal. It's not going to happen overnight. If we're playing the same in Round 1 next year then I might start

A Talkback Lunatic Division spotters badge to anyone who heard the guy who always rings SEN up to talk about us and sounds like he's going to cry. Managed to ask Anthony Hudson et al about 102 questions in his 30 seconds on the air.

Koaches Korner
As per the last section I have a few questions regarding Bailey (Buckley as a clueless defender? Spencer hung out to dry in the ruck?) but I'm willing to accept that he's getting paid to do the job and is hardly likely to come here looking for tips so I'll let him get on with it.

However, on the other side of the coaching divide my love affair with the Junkyard Dog Laidley has ended. No reason, it just ran it's course. I hope we can be friends for the sake of the children.

2009 Allen Jakovich Medal Votes

Difficult one this. Nobody really stood out, and of Moloney's 29 touches 20 of them were handballs so Cheney shades him for the 5 votes in the absence of any other massive performances on the strength of his high disposal efficiency and taking our one solitary contested mark. Congratulations to Cheney on jumping to an early lead in the Hilton and Jakovich, and Warnock who has continued his excellent late 2008 and pre-season 2009 form to lead the Seecamp.

5 - Kyle Cheney (LEADER: 2009 Allen Jakovich Medal, 2009 Jeff Hilton Medal for Rookie of the Year and 2009 Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
4 - Brent Moloney
3 - Matthew Warnock
2 - James McDonald
1 - Ricky Petterd

The Demonblog statiscal analysis department informs me that this is the first time a player has ever taken maximum votes on debut.

Apologies to Bartram (decent tag on Harvey, ordinary stats otherwise), Frawley, Green and Jones.

P.S - Did Bruce really get 22 touches? I only remember one. Refer to disclaimer #1.

Announcement
I would like to announce that as much as I love Rivers I'm jumping on the rags-to-riches Warnock bandwagon and declaring him my new favourite player. This will not influence the votes throughout the year - if I couldn't manage to rig it so Phil Read won an award how can I do it for anyone else?

Supercoach Watch
Piss off. This is the only website in the world that won't be discussing it. Buy who you want, make Presti your captain and good luck to you. I support playing it, but I'm sick about hearing about it everywhere and seeing live updates halfway through a quarter. As if our players need any more bloody encouragement to overpossess the ball. God help us all when Wheatley comes back.

Next Season
First person to suggest throwing games to get picks 1 and 2 will be stabbed in the face.

Next Week
Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday. Presumably they'll be going nuts to avoid an 0-2 start and I expect that they'll flog us by at least the same margin as today BUT wouldn't it be hillarious if we somehow managed to get up? Don't hold your breath waiting for it.

And isn't playing our supposed traditional rivals (where tradition = nobody who matters having cared since 1959) in round two something of a let down? I'm happy to play them twice a year but even being the unsentimental cold hearted realist that I am looks forward to the Queen's Birthday game. Can't we play them at the end of the year instead? Think of all the fun we had when we almost beat them in 2007 - you know, when Ben Johnson hit Daniel Bell so hard that he dislodged the part of his brain which allowed Bell to play good football.

Are you still excited? You can't start a fire without a spark.

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